Family Tree II

Written by Zena Khan

‘Identity’ is a key theme in art, particularly in post colonialist societies such as Malaysia. Indeed in postmodern times, the interplay between an individual, society and the world at large has become increasingly complex, largely due to the homogenous environment arising from globalization. Reactively societies and individuals have begun questioning what defines them, often finding the answer in either culture or family. Husin Hourmain delves into the subject of identity with a highly personal rumination in the form of his latest painting, Family Tree II.

A diptych measuring five feet by six feet, Family Tree II mixes elements of Husin’s signature hyper-detailed calligraphic painting and other experimental expressionist techniques. The mixed media on canvas piece is worked in acrylic, charcoal and, in a new move for Husin, bitumen. Bitumen is a notoriously difficult medium to handle on canvas. The ease with which it is applied in Family Tree II denotes Husin’s technical proficiency and casts a gothic, historical atmosphere over the painting. Fans of Husin’s super expressionist style can create links between his latest work and his solo Zero to Something, Zero to Nothing. The artist returns to the drip technique and energetic mark making from his 2008 solo to create impressions of two trees, one on each panel. The trees are deeply rooted, with outstretched branches. Interwoven throughout are repeated calligraphic characters in both Arabic and English, paying homage to Husin’s wonderful skill as a contemporary calligraphy painter. The artist has taken two techniques he has spent large portions of his career developing and started to mix them, resulting in an exciting technical turning point for his paintings.

With Family Tree II, Husin attempts to establish familial identity for his children by talking about their ancestry. The tree on the left panel represents Husin and his ancestors, the one on the right represents his wife and her family. Across the branches and roots are calligraphies spelling out the names of their families and, towards the base of the canvas, his four children. Blending his signature contemporary style with the importance of an archival document, Husin has created a tangible form of identity for his children, who are growing up in an increasingly borderless world, which naturally brings with it the homogenization of culture. Using his family as a conceptual starting point, Husin acts as a mediator of information and history, calling awareness to the importance of remaining rooted in one’s own culture while participating in a rapidly developing society. Composition grounds Family Tree II in ideas of cultural heritage, while the highly current techniques frame it in the contemporary context for which it was created.

Part of the joy in following the career of a contemporary artist is the ability to witness new directions within the art as they develop. Family Tree II is a stunning example of such a development. A delicate balance between the past and the future is inherent both in terms of content as well as technique. Family Tree II beautifully describes the fascinations for understanding history, seeking knowledge and progressing in life, as well as Husin’s ability to connect the main aspects of his identity, as a Muslim, a parent and an artist, that recur throughout his career.


Title: Family Tree II

Artist: Husin Hourmain

Size: 173 cm x 205 cm

Medium: Acrylic, Charcoal & Bitumen on canvas

Year: 2014


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